THE Biden administration is set to announce that neither the president nor any other US government official will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 amid rising tensions, according to a report.
Several sources familiar with the plans told The Washington Post that the planned diplomatic boycott comes in protest against the Chinese government's human rights abuses.
Team USA athletes will not be prevented from competing, however, the sources said.
Although the decision has not yet been finalized, a formal recommendation has been made to Biden and he's expected to accept it before the end of November.
The timing of the announcement is said to not be linked to the virtual meeting on Monday evening between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Days prior, it had been reported that Xi Jinping intended to bring up the Olympics issue with Biden, perhaps even inviting him to personally attend. But the subject wasn't raised during the three-and-a-half-hour meeting, reports say.
A White House readout of the virtual meeting does state: “President Biden raised concerns about the [People’s Republic of China’s] practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly.”
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The Biden administration has not previously spoken about the possibility of a boycott in any capacity.
Human rights groups and activists, meanwhile, have called for a full athlete boycott as well.
Following Biden and Xi Jinping's meeting, the Post's sources say the White House has one less reason to hold off announcing the boycott.
It's understood that the administration will inform allies of their decision but leave them to make their own decision as to whether to follow the US's lead.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 in May that wouldn't punish US competitors.
Senator Mitt Romney, who oversaw the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, also called for an economic and diplomatic boycott in a New York Times op-ed in March.
Romney argued that a full boycott – which would involve athletes not attending – would be counterproductive.
He pointed to President Jimmy Carter's full boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics which was spun by the Soviet Union as a victory in its propaganda.
“In authoritarian states, the Olympics has more often been a tool of propaganda than a lever of reform,” Romney wrote.
Carter's boycott came after the Soviet Union failed to comply with a deadline to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan on February 20, 1980. The Soviet military invaded Afghanistan a year prior to reinforce the country’s communist regime against Islamic rebel forces.
Reaction to Cater's decision was mixed. In retaliation, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics four years later in 1984.
In 2008, when Beijing last hosted the Olympics, then-President George W Bush accepted an invitation to attend despite China’s crackdown in Tibet at the time.
He later advocated for human rights inside China by hosting the Dalai Lama in Washington and awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal.
Both the Biden and Trump administrations have characterized the Chinese government’s abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province as an ongoing “genocide”.
Biden's virtual meeting with Xi Jinping on Monday was billed by China as an opportunity to build better relations amid an era of rising tensions. The US, contrastingly, has been relatively mute about the talks.
During the meeting, both sides held firm to their positions on the issues that divide Washington and Beijing, with Xi warning that the US and Taiwan are playing with fire over the self-governing island that China considers part of its territory.
Both Biden and Xi seemed determined to lower the temperature in what for both sides is their most significant — and frequently turbulent — relationship on the global stage.
“As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden told Xi at the start of the meeting.
Xi echoed Biden’s friendly tone in his opening remarks, saying, “China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation.” He also referred to Biden as his "old friend."
The White House said Biden reiterated the US will abide by its longstanding “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.
Biden also made clear the US “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” a White House statement said.
In addition to raising concerns about human rights, Biden also spoke with Xi about North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.
Paul Haenle, a former US official and China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the AP: "This really was just an opportunity for the two leaders to make clear their intentions and priorities and concerns about their relationship and to begin really to set the terms of what is a new era in US-China relations."
Similarly, Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing, said: "I see this dialogue as a stabilizer of the bilateral relation.
"I don’t expect this one summit to bring us back to the good old days, but certainly it stops the downward spiral.”
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